Yesterday, DARPA released their latest vision for the future. As the far-seeing technological eye of the Defense Department, DARPA's had its hand in everything from the launch of stealth fighter jets to the birth of the Internet. So when they predict the future, it's likely they're in a place to make that future come true. Here are four future technologies the DARPA report highlights, which we can expect to see on the battlefields of the future.
Consider it a silver lining amid the dark storm clouds of war. DARPA, the Defense Department's advanced research wing, this Sunday announced progress in a project to make prosthetic hands provide the sensation of touch. The injuries from two long wars abroad have increased the need for technology like this, and DARPA wants to restore the sense of touch to those who've lost hands.
Drones work best operating in packs. Last year, a study by the RAND corporation showed that when two or more drones are tracking the same target, they are much more successful at staying on its trail. Right now, however, flying drones is very labor intensive, with each drone requiring a team of pilots and observers. DARPA wants to solve both of these problems by putting more drones in the sky -- with fewer humans controlling them.
In the near future, America's enemies may soon learn that death comes on two wheels. First announced last year, the SilentHawk is a motorcycle for special forces, the kind of dirt bike someone would want in an apocalypse. Development on the motorcycle started last year, and DARPA recently granted makers Logos Technologies and Alta Motors an award to develop it further.
The heavy, treaded, gun-swinging battlefield behemoths know as tanks haven't changed much since their invention a century ago. Using a crapload of armor, the tank is meant to keep soldiers inside safe from bullets and other projectiles, while shooting a cannon at anything that poses a threat. But the problem with all this armor is that it makes vehicles slow and therefore more vulnerable. DARPA wants to change that. Their new Ground X-Vehicle Technology (GXV-T) initiative aims to get vehicles beyond armor, figuring out new ways to keep the people inside safe without sacrificing mobility.
So DARPA wants a reusable spaceplane. I mean, who doesn't? For decades, space experts have tried to design quick-turnover, reusable launch systems. So far, however, no one has made one that works. "There really isn't any kind of vehicle today that does exactly what they're asking people to do," Micah Walter-Range, director of research and analysis at the Space Foundation, tells Popular Science. "You can certainly compare it to existing vehicles, but it seems to be a new class."
The future of silicon transmitters looks a lot like an 8-bit adventure game. Developed by DARPA, the Efficient Linearized All-Silicon Transmitter ICs (ELASTx) is a complete, all-on-one chip system that operates at 94 gigahertz. This means it transmits in the millimeter-wave frequencies, which are a relatively untapped part of the electromagnetic spectrum that's particularly useful for radar, guidance systems, and other military tech. It's the first time those frequencies have been achieved on a silicon-only chip, which is lighter and cheaper than the gallium-based alternatives.